Tim McNiff- Rodgers Fumbles Opportunity to Cement His Legacy [Exclusive]
Ok, full disclosure, this story is being written from a Minnesota Vikings fan perspective, so the odds of it coming out favorably for Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are perhaps long, at best.
That said, I am going to try to be as objective as possible, while still floating after watching the Packers lose the NFC Championship game in perhaps the most Minnesota Vikings-like style, ever.
First thing, we will never debate “Who’s the best ever?” when it comes to NFL quarterbacks. At least not where it concerns Tom Brady vs. Aaron Rodgers.
There may come a day when we ask that question comparing Brady with young Patrick Mahomes, but I don’t care about all the regular season numbers you want to drag out concerning Rodgers. Rodgers is now just 1-4 in Conference Championship games and of course he has just one Super Bowl Ring, so any comparisons between “A-Rodj” and Tom Brady are now off the table until further notice.
Are we good? Alrighty then, moving on.
I could do an entire column on the Packers giving up a 39-yard touchdown pass with 1-second left in the first half. Talk about things at the top of every football coach’s fundamental list of things you never do, you don’t play man coverage when your opponent has a fourth and 4 from your 39 with 8 freaking seconds left in the first half!
I don’t care if the receiver IS someone called Scotty Miller, you play a soft zone, you bring in Davante Adams and he stands on the goal line, and you damn well make sure that no one gets behind you. Just for allowing that touchdown in that situation the Packers deserved to lose that game, but as we all know, for the green and gold, it only gonna get worse.
With the game on the line, late in the 4th quarter, Green Bay drives to the Tampa Bay 8-yard line with just under 2:30 to play. Now, keep in-mind that Green Bay has not only the number one red-zone offense in the NFL in the 2020 regular season, the Packers red zone offense is the best of ALL-TIME, scoring touchdowns on more than 75% of their possessions inside the 20-yard line. So, Tampa is toast, right?
The Pack had the touchdown on first down when Rodgers threw a slant pass to an open Allen Lazard. Problem was, not even Allen Lazard expected Aaron Rodgers to throw the ball to Allen Lazard, so he wasn’t looking for it, and it whistled past his earhole, instead.
On 2nd down Rodgers came to his senses and tried to find Davante Adams, but the duo which has owned NFL d-backs this season suddenly weren’t on the same page, and another unlikely incompletion means we’re looking at 3rd and goal from the 8, with about 2:15 to play.
This is where Aaron Rodgers begins to unravel.
On 3rd down the Packers again look to throw the ball. Tampa Bay’s defense, who sacked Rodgers 5-times on the afternoon, pressure him into stepping up in the pocket, and there is it. Rodgers has what appears to be a clear lane to the endzone.
Now, I’m guessing it’s slightly easier for me in my power lounger, 278 miles away from Lambeau Field, to see that open path into the endzone than it is for Rodgers, who is basically running for his life, but Rodgers pulls-up and rushes a throw towards Adams, who is double-covered at the goal line, and the pass falls incomplete.
Aaron Rodgers is a great passer, but if you’ve watched the guy play a couple of times you know he’s a sneaky good athlete. He has an almost uncanny sense to move away from the pressure and extend plays with his feet, something our guy Kirk Cousins does not have and I’m guessing, never will (Plus, if you’ve seen the All-State commercials – and how can you not? – Rodgers is also capable of hitting golf balls and throwing tennis balls like no one else!).
In this instance, with the game and his team’s season on the line, Rodgers inexplicably pulls-up and misfires. Maybe it’s a careers-worth of hits finally affecting him at age 37? But, Rodgers had an opportunity to put his head down and AT LEAST get Green Bay inside the 5, and instead he pulled-up and misfired.
Now, Green Bay is faced with a 4th and goal from the 8 with 2:09 to play. We all know what happens next, and Green Bay Head Coach Matt Lafleur is getting hammered for it, but for me, this is where Rodgers truly fails his team and his legacy.
Out trots Green Bay’s field goal team, and off trots the offense and Aaron Rodgers.
Allow me to re-write history for a moment.
What is, in that instance, instead of jogging off to the sideline with their heads down, Aaron Rodgers holds up a single hand towards the Packers sideline and says, “Hold up!”.
Suddenly, the other 10 guys trotting off the field stop dead in their tracks, while the field goal, headed collectively onto the field does the very same thing as they hear Rodgers say, “Oh, HELL no!”
A chill runs up their collective spine and the Packers suddenly remember that they’re the number one red zone offense in the HISTORY of the National Football League and their leader is, up until this point, the BEST at producing touchdowns in this situation.
Lafleur looks at Rodgers and says, “You want to go?” To which Rodgers cements his name in football lore by responding with an emphatic, “F— yes!”
Forget the analytics that say the Packers increased their chances of winning by 9% or whatever by kicking the field goal there. Nobody is going to second-guess Matt Lafleur for leaving that offense with that quarterback on the field in that situation. Not to mention that even with all three timeouts you’re still going to be giving the football back to Tom freaking Brady, a man with – count ‘em – 6 Super Bowl Rings, to run out the clock.
Green Bay’s decision to kick the field goal, based on analytics is the kind of thinking that gets teams beat and coaches fired. The Packers had a chance to go for it, with one of the best to ever play the game, and instead Rodgers put his head down and his tail between his legs and he trotted off the field.
Strike two, and here comes the worst part.
After the game when asked about that situation both Rodgers and Lafleur faced the inevitable slings and arrows of the questioning media horde, knowing that decision to kick the field goal will always be questioned from this point going forward, yet only one of them took his medicine and swallowed it.
“Any time it doesn’t work out, you always regret it,” LaFleur said. “It was the circumstances of having three shots and coming away with no yards and knowing that not only you need the touchdown, but you need the 2-point (conversion). We essentially had four timeouts with the two-minute warning. We knew we needed to get a stop.”
Classic “coach-speak,” and if you want to go over the numbers over say, 16 or 18 beers it might even begin to make sense, but here’s where for me, the story really leaves the rails.
“I didn’t have a decision on that one,” said Rodgers afterward. “That wasn’t my decision, but I understand the thinking, above two minutes with all of our timeouts, but it wasn’t my decision.”
Maybe not his decision, but one he certainly could have altered with a single wave of his hand. This is a guy who moped for a month after this year’s draft because the Packers did to him what they did to Brett Favre when they drafted Rodgers back in 2005.
This is a guy who moped for the entire 2018 season, to the point where his then head coach Mike McCarthy lost all faith in his own decision making until his inevitable firing.
This is a guy whose voice clearly matters more than any single player on that team and I’m betting, if push came to shove, more than Matt Lafleur’s, it certainly mattered more than Mike McCarthy’s.
I’m picturing Brett Favre (in a Packers jersey) standing there, hands on hips, refusing to leave the field. You think Frankie “bag a donuts” Winters is going to go to the sideline? Hell no.
Bart Starr, Joe Montana, Kenny Stabler, Dan Marino, John Elway, Christian Ponder (OK, that last one was a complete cheap shot, but this is the Packers and I couldn’t resist!), Tom Brady! This was an opportunity for Aaron Rodgers to separate himself from Favre and Bart Starr in Packer lore.
Aaron Rodgers had an opportunity to either go up in a blaze of glory, “We went for it, can you blame us?!” Or to go down in history as the guy who out-dueled Tom Brady. “Brady or Rodgers, who is the best QB EVER? Remember, A-Rog may have less rings, but he beat Brady head-to-head with the Super Bowl on the line!”
Instead, Aaron Rodgers chose to slink off to the sideline, putting the onus of that life changing decision on the shoulders of a head coach who has less experience in those situations than he does and less credibility with his team. At least, that was the situation until last Sunday.